Yiddish Theater

About the New Country

Organized in 1921 by newly arrived young people from Europe, the Young Literary & Dramatic Society was an activity housed in the Abraham Lincoln House. It started as a reading group but soon began producing one-act Yiddish plays and changed its name to the Yiddish Drama League. Following World War II, the group called itself the Perhift Players, named after the playwright Peretz Hirschbein.

They enjoyed plays about the old country, but the new Americans also related to themes of life in the slums of America and the problems of assimilation. Exploited in sweatshops, they identified with H. Leivick's work about his own experience in a sweatshop. Sholom Asch, who came from a scholarly Orthodox family in Poland, portrayed the positive sides of shtetl (village) life, stressing outer servitude to the oppressor with the inner freedom found in traditional Judaism. Other writers like Edmond Morris wrote about the problems of all immigrant families with aging parents, fears of assimilation by their children and a sense of loss for old values.

The new immigrants refused to give up their dreams. They truly believed their children would have a good life in the New Country.

"Schmates" - H. Leivick

"Schmates" (rags) was Leivick's first American play. Having worked in a sweatshop himself, he set this play in a basement "rag shop" of the 1920's.

Players include: Henry Lerner, Harry Perlstein, Howard Weinshel, Joseph Bursten

"Riverside Drive" - Leon Kobrin

Performed often in Milwaukee, this play depicts the differences between immigrant Eastern European Jews who lived through revolutions and pogroms and their affluent, assimilated American children.

Players include: Joseph Bursten, Isadore Tepper, Ida Bursten

"The 5th Commandment" - Edmund Morris

This drama illustrates a family's dilemma about placing their unwilling elderly father in a home for the aged. He tells them: "Look at me and remember, you too will one day be old."

Players include: Esther Edwards, Bess Lerner, Paul Melrood, Isadore Tepper

"Uncle Moses" - Sholom Asch

This is a story of a benevolent despot who brings his "landsmen" from Russia to work in his factories and stores. He starts them off as new Americans, being generous when he is so inclined.

Players include: Mel Shikora, Becky Solochek

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